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Autistc Spectrum Disorder

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Understanding Students with Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Teachers will be increasingly aware of the growing numbers of students being diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. This is due in part to greater medical awareness and an understanding of genetic predisposition. There also seems to be an increase in the condition possibly due to a greater chemical onslaught from the environment – toxins, viruses, bacteria, pesticides, allergies and additives.

What is ASD?

· Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them.

· The exact cause or causes of autism are still not known but research shows that genetic factors are important.

· Autism acts as a continuum.

· People on the continuum do not necessarily present all or many of the features traditionally associated with the disorder in its classic form.

There are many incorrect assumptions made about children with ASD but these particular characteristics/difficulties have been identified:

· Predicting another’s behaviour

· Reading the intentions and motives behind another’s behaviour

· Explaining their own behaviour

· Understanding their own and others’ emotions – leading to a lack of empathy

· Understanding that behaviour affects how others think or feel

· Anticipate what others might think of their actions

· Inability to deceive or understand deception

· Understanding social interaction

· Understanding fact from fiction

· Understanding sarcasm, idioms – taking language, exaggeration literally

It is the final point that can cause ASD students the most confusion in school. Luke Jackson in his book Freaks Geaks and Asperger’s Syndrome ( ISBN 1 84310 098 3), himself someone with the condition gives the following advice to teachers:

· Give clear and specific instructions about what you want the child to do.

· Avoid using similes and particularly metaphors unless you explain them accurately.

· Never presume that the child can pick up the rights and wrongs of certain behaviours.

· All things need to be spelled out clearly to a student with ASD – in a way they are like foreigners in their inability to access spoken and written language.

· Where appropriate ASD students may need to be taught social rules - personal space, giving and receiving compliments, when to be entirely honest versus giving a polite response.

· It may need to be explained to an ASD student that others will be angry or sad if their property is taken and use concrete illustration to enable the student to identify with those feelings.

Perhaps people with ASD should not be seen as disordered but as having a different way of thinking. I am interested in any examples to support the following-

· Through their behaviour ASD students are often trying to solve a problem not create one

· A crisis reaction is not an abnormal reaction. It is a normal response to abnormal circumstances.

· Students can only be seen as having problems when they become a problem to others

· The teaching environment should be altered to meet the needs of the ASD student rather than expecting the ASD student to adapt.

For additional material see my recent presentation at:


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Guest ChristineS

One of my problems as an English teacher is how to adapt tasks to suit those in my main stream class with a 'milder' form of autism, such as Asperger's. I am aware that it is often very hard for students with this condition to grasp the big picture, but that they can focus on particulars, however I don't know how to use this to create achievable tasks and differentiated worksheets when we are studying a novel, for instance.

I pick things up better when I see practical examples so where can I find such information and see such examples of work to set in my subject (preferably free on the Internet, or cheap enough for me to pay for myself)?

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  • 3 months later...

I have a research interest in the teaching of school subjects to pupils with speciel educational needs. One of the results of my research is a series of bibliographies of SEN in subject teaching, which I have posted on my website at http://www.specialeducationalneeds/inclusi...ula/biblio.html. On of the observations I have made while compiling these bibliographies is the relative paucity of literature online an in print about the teaching of individual school subjects to those with ASD. Where people do write about, say, ASD and Art, they tend to focus on the "therapeutic" aspects rather than the didactic issues. There is no ASD equivalent of David Fulton's excellent "Dyslexia in ..." series, where there is a volume for each subject in the school curriculum.

As witness Anne Jakin's message, ASD has spawned a fine "generalist" tradition of methodological literature for educators, but lamentably little focused writing of immediate application to the teaching of particular school subjects, so I share ChristineS's frustration when she complains about the lack of information about the implications of Asperger Syndrome for the English classroom and about appropriate strategies to be deployed when supporting such learners. I can only suggest that she works to the strengths of her students and reports her success on a website, in an article or a conference presentation so all classroom practitioners can benefit.

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